On motivation, procrastination and project logs

In this digital era we live in it’s quite easy to get distracted with the incredible amount of things we have at our disposal. And the worse part is that a whole day can go by, while you’re thinking that you’re doing some work (like writing emails[1]), and yet you end up feeling like having done no progress at all on your projects. At this point I might be starting to sound a bit like all the GTD (Getting Things Done) evangelists out there, if you keep reading you might see that I am not, and neither am I interested in writing about GTD nor the ever-increasing number of apps related to it.

I am not a really busy person, in the sense that I don’t have to attend to a lot of meetings, or have a busy schedule, however I do have a lot of things to do, the problem is that it is basically one big project: my PhD thesis[2]. With practically the whole day available to work on this massive project it’s rather easy to procrastinate. However, when it comes down to it If you feel you have to procrastinate, try to do it wisely. Like Matt Might suggests,

If you must procrastinate, try to procrastinate on something with a later deadline rather than something frivolous. I often spend the day before a submission deadline working on my next paper or grant proposal.
If you can’t bring yourself to procrastinate on work, try procrastinating on meta-work like trying out things from the Academic Productivity Blog [3].

Now down to business. One of the reasons (I believe) one could be prone to procrastination or simply feel distracted while at work is probably because of a lack of proper motivation. And with this I don’t mean to say the I’m not interested in my work, what I’m trying to say is that at times it might take me somewhat of a great effort to start to work, after one or two hours of fiddling around “getting nothing done”. Because when I finally get on with my things I have no trouble continuing to work.

When you get down to it is probably a matter of thinking too much about what you have to do instead of actually doing what you have to do. As I see it, the problem with thinking about the work instead of doing the work is probably related to the type of work you have to carry out. Let’s say you have to do some repetitive task or boring work, then something like the Pomodoro technique could actually work for you[4], but if the work is more about thinking (or creative thinking) then most of the tools available out there seem hardly fit for the job. I don’t mean to say they won’t work, they just haven’t worked for me.

After modifying my workflow for the past several years I’ve come to a simple yet powerful solution. Keep a log/journal of your main work/project. This came to me as I entered the world of version control[5]. Writing down mostly everything you do, even though it might be a single line of something you just did is a way of forcing yourself to work, and most importantly to me, to gradually start to work. I’ve kept things simple: I write in markdown in a plain text file or a note in nvAlt with a title something like # Work log for Jun 14, 2012 # and I start to write a list. I normally begin with - I'm continuing the work on project X. Because I probably would have read the log of the previous day, so it’s like extra motivation to start off where I’d left the day before. So, I continue to work and write a line or two of what I’ve done. The best part, at the end of the day when I see my log-note filled with stuff I can’t deny it certainly feels good.

  1. If this happens to you very often, you should consider reading this post about Applying discipline to email from Simplicity is Bliss.  ↩

  2. See this post on writing the PhD thesis.  ↩

  3. I would also recommend reading the Academic workflows on Mac Blog where Aleh Cherp blogs about “being a more productive academic with or without a Mac”, but a Mac is highly recommended.  ↩

  4. Aleh Cherp gives some good advice on when to apply the pomodoro technique.  ↩

  5. Instead of learning svn I decided I would go immediately with git because it is more powerful and it is also more popular nowadays.  ↩

2 thoughts on “On motivation, procrastination and project logs

  1. Pingback: What was I saying again? | twomidlistindies.com

  2. Pingback: What was I saying again? | IAG

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